It is a truism that Elizabeth Bishop was in the habit of waiting for decades for her material to discover an apt form, something her friend Robert Lowell celebrated in a poem:
you still hang your words in air, ten years
unfinished, glued to your notice board, with gaps
or empties for the unimaginable phrase–
unerring Muse who makes the casual perfect?
This new Manchester Review has not taken ten years to assemble, but it is definitely overdue and we are grateful for the patience of our contributors. We are grateful, too, to feature photography from late Chinese conceptual artist Li Yuan-Chia and pieces from artist Elizabeth Price’s work ‘A Long Memory’. The issue includes a new essay on Bishop which finds another brilliantly ingenious example of how her work plays such original variations on autobiography. The essay, by Jonathan Ellis, offers a finely calibrated mix of ideas, biography and poetics, a kind of formal model itself for how to write about art and artists.
Ellis’s Bishop is accompanied here by other Canadians, Ken Babstock, Anne Compton, Jason Guriel, Evan Jones and Natasha Cabot, and our international mix of Scottish, Irish, American, Australian, Kenyan, South African and English writers. We are delighted to also include some translations of the wonderful Chinese poet Xi Chuan, whose work first came to our attention when he read at the Burgess Foundation in Manchester during the 2018 Manchester Literature Festival.
That festival is now upon us again, along with the Centre for New Writing’s new Complete Works series, hosted by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey which began with a public interview with Jackie Kay. These events bring together congregations, communities who are also often to be found in this city’s many protest marches and demos, a re-assuringly non-digital reminder that artistic work can have – as Eugenio Montale put it in his essay, ‘The Second Life of Art’ – “the courage to speak words that go back out into the street again.” We hope you will enjoy reading this issue and will carry its poems, stories, and essays with you away from the screens you read it on.
John McAuliffe & Chad Campbell